As we look for books, what is it that we’re looking for? Do we want something that is going to appeal to our tastes based on spatial placement and marketing analysis? Is there a writer or genre that we’re trying to explore?
Despite what professional booksellers would tell you, I don’t think we’re after any of those things.
If we aren’t after the things that bookstores and publishers know we’re after, then what are we looking for?
I think we’re looking for hope. Not the hope of being surprised or entertained, but a hope that has little to do with the experience of reading. As selfish beings and social creatures, I think we’re after something that can drive us to discuss ideas and knowledge, action and excitement. I think we’re looking for a way to get in on the conversation, if not start it ourselves.
A few days ago, I was talking with my friend Jonathan about The Way of Kings. This discussion started not long after we walked into a bookstore, but it went on much longer. From there, we went and ate Mexican, stopped by my apartment so I could drop off some things, and went to visit another friend. During that time, the discussion about Brandon Sanderson’s works never really stopped. This was over the course of three hours.
When that conversation started, it was just talking about books. By the end, I think we’d both expanded our appreciation and understanding of what Sanderson has to offer. As great as The Way of Kings might be, talking about it and the wealth of Sanderson’s writing was possibly more rewarding than the reading itself.
A couple of days later, I was taking part in a Google hangout. Half of our group went to sleep, but my friend Oscar and I, we were still going. It had been a while since the two of us talked one on one, so we got caught up on several things. In time, we started discussing cyberpunk books, with both of us recommending things to each other. There were several titles one of us knew that the other didn’t, a fact that, gladly, applied to both of us. At the end, I think I stepped away with a revitalized love and appreciation of things like cyberpunk, not because we talked about jacking in or mental upgrades. I appreciated cyberpunk more because I remembered what it’s like to share that understanding with someone else.
Bookstores and websites can give you that sort of experience, but I think you need the contact, the personal interaction, to really understand a book. You need the ability to relate with others in order to get the most out of something. A store can’t give you that interaction and a website can’t build a natural give and take like a direct conversation can. Those things can help, but it takes a real person to get us where we can find the book we’re really after, the title that will fill us with a literary passion.